McGreevey’s Double Life Changed in a Single Day

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They met four years ago at a performing arts center reception in Rishon Le Zion, a suburb of Tel Aviv. Golan Cipel was Israeli, a slender, boyish man just over 30 who worked as the town’s information officer. Jim McGreevey was 12 years older, a smart, ambitious American mayor on a political junket.

At some point, the relationship became sexual. It might have remained an unremarkable liaison if McGreevey had not been elected governor of New Jersey and hired Cipel at taxpayers’ expense. The fact that McGreevey also has a wife and two children only served to elevate the affair into a sociological and political spectacle.

When Gov. James E. McGreevy announced his adulterous affair Thursday -- apparently forced to the surface by threats from Cipel -- he did what politicians usually do when confronted with their transgressions. He quit. But what distinguishes McGreevey’s case from run-of-the-mill political debacles is that he hadn’t merely hid an illicit affair: He had for decades hidden his very being.


His remarkable six-minute resignation speech inside the gold-domed State House was much more than a political mea culpa. It was a revelation of a hidden double-life: the gay lover and the straight husband and politician. As McGreevey put it, he had created “an acceptable reality” for himself. Under threat of exposure, he was forced to reveal that “my truth is that I am a gay American.”

But on Friday, Cipel came forward with his own version of the truth, claiming through his lawyer that McGreevey, 47, had made “repeated sexual advances” toward him.

Calling himself “a victim whose oppressor was one of the most powerful politicians in the country,” Cipel, 35, said in a statement that when he finally rejected the governor’s advances, his administration responded with “nothing short of abuse and intimidation.”

After reading Cipel’s statement to reporters Friday in Manhattan, attorney Allen Lowy said McGreevey’s representatives had summoned him at an earlier point to a meeting and offered “a sum of money to make my client go away.”

McGreevey’s aides accused Cipel of attempting to extort millions of dollars from the governor by threatening a sexual harassment lawsuit and said they had reported it to federal authorities.

The recriminations only served to underscore the complex nature of what Republicans were calling McGreevey’s “deception.” Whether it was an “adult consensual affair,” as McGreevey described it, or sexual harassment of an employee, the relationship was incendiary.


His afternoon announcement -- watched on TVs in offices, homes, restaurants and shopping malls -- brought the state to a near standstill and was met with stunned disbelief throughout the nation.

As McGreevey considered his decision Thursday to come out as gay at the same time he was confessing to adultery, his chief of staff placed a frantic call to Sacramento early in the day.

The aide told Daniel Zingale, an openly gay man who was California Cabinet secretary to former Gov. Gray Davis, that he needed “somebody who has done this before,” recalled Zingale, who advised Magic Johnson when the basketball star decided to reveal that he had contracted HIV.

“And I said: ‘This has never happened before,’ ” Zingale said he told McGreevey’s aide. “ ‘You have to realize how huge this is.’ ”

Zingale and three other people familiar with the deliberations by McGreevey and his senior advisors on Thursday described a daylong series of tense discussions inside the library at Drumthwacket, the governor’s official residence in Princeton. Early in the day, they said, the prevailing sentiment was that the governor would announce that he was gay and admit the affair but would not resign.

Zingale said he advised, in a conference call with McGreevey’s advisors, that they not deal with politics. “I kept saying ... deal with the personal, come forward, admit that he is gay, come clean on the adultery, take responsibility for it. Say you regret it, but the rest of it is between me and my wife.”


But by midday, those familiar with the deliberations said, the group decided that McGreevey had to reveal his affair and resign, effective Nov. 15. The fact that Cipel had threatened to file a sexual harassment lawsuit against the governor was a central consideration, according to Jim Margolis, a media consultant and McGreevey advisor.

“The threats that were being made were part of what made it difficult for the governor to continue to do his job in the way it needed to be done. He knew that once the word had gotten out about the lawsuit, regardless if the charges were false, that all that would be left would be a circus out there,” Margolis said.

In his speech, McGreevey did not mention Cipel by name, saying only that his affair was “wrong ... foolish ... inexcusable.” The consultants said McGreevey insisted on writing every word of the speech himself, refusing to let aides edit it.

Early in the day, one person present said, he was told that McGreevey’s wife, Dina, would not join him for his announcement. “I got the impression that she was too emotionally fragile to go out in front of the public and media,” he said.

Another advisor present said, “There was no decision or calculus about whether she would be out there with him. That was a decision between her and the governor.”

Dina McGreevey ultimately attended the news conference, standing at her husband’s side, occasionally squeezing his hand, with a smile on her face. McGreevey’s parents -- his father is a former U.S. Marine drill instructor -- stood behind him.


Several politicians who have socialized with Dina McGreevey said they did not know when she became aware that her husband was gay, or when she learned of his association with Cipel. One advisor present during the discussions Thursday said he was told that she had learned the truth only Wednesday. Others who know her, however, said they believed she knew well before this week that her husband was gay.

“Somehow, I think she must have known something,” said Loretta Weinberg, a Democratic state assemblywoman from Bergen County who has met the governor’s wife several times.

Joseph Cryan, vice chairman of the state Democratic Party, said Dina McGreevey is not likely to share her personal affairs. “She’s a classy lady who would keep those kinds of things to herself,” Cryan said.

Whatever his wife knew, or when she knew it, the governor seemed “totally comfortable” with his decisions to come forward and to resign, one advisor said. “Yes, he was giving up this job that he worked like crazy to get -- this political prize -- in exchange for something that is giving him more peace of mind than anything he has ever had in his life,” he said.

Until Thursday, it was an article of faith in New Jersey politics that if McGreevey went down, it would be from more mundane wounds -- the debilitating effects of garden-variety political scandals tinged with allegations of cronyism, patronage and payoffs. This is a governor who survived after his top fundraiser was indicted last month for allegedly hiring a prostitute to entrap his own brother-in-law.

McGreevey had managed to keep his job in the face of other scandals. Two of his top aides are under investigation for payments they received for billboard locations. A waste-hauler and McGreevey fundraiser has been charged with extorting bribes from a landowner. And two years ago, the state Democratic committee paid $75,000 to cover 14 personal trips by McGreevey that had been charged to taxpayers.


And even though some New Jersey politicians now say they suspected McGreevey’s homosexuality all along, these suspicions did not tamp down a career that made him the mayor of Woodbridge, N.J., at age 34 and one of the nation’s most powerful governors at age 45.

When he met Cipel in March 2000, he was more than a year away from his election as governor -- and six months away from marrying his second wife, Dina Matos. Cipel moved to New Jersey around the time of McGreevey’s marriage and worked on the gubernatorial campaign as “outreach coordinator” to the state’s Jewish community.

McGreevey helped Cipel find an apartment a short walk from the Woodbridge townhouse where McGreevey was living, the Star-Ledger of Newark reported at the time. The paper said McGreevey personally inspected the apartment beforehand.

Cipel’s $30,000 salary was paid by the state Democratic committee. According to press reports, McGreevey also found Cipel a second job with Charles Kushner, 50, a millionaire developer and McGreevey fundraiser. Kushner has been charged with trying to thwart a federal campaign-finance investigation by luring a grand jury witness into a videotaped tryst with a prostitute.

Loretta Weinberg, the state assemblywoman, recalled being “singularly unimpressed” by Cipel. “He never did much,” she said, describing him as a poorly disciplined young man who would arrive more than an hour late for meetings, then bolt from the room as soon as they ended.

Weinberg said she and other Democrats questioned the hiring of Cipel but got little reaction from McGreevey administration officials. Then newspapers began questioning McGreevey’s appointment of Cipel as a $110,000-a-year homeland security advisor. McGreevey cited Cipel’s experience in the Israeli navy and called him “smart, incisive, hard-working and trustworthy.” Cipel told the New Jersey Jewish News: “Jim is a mensch for all seasons.”


The Star-Ledger reported that the Secret Service and FBI would not share sensitive security information with Cipel because he was a foreign national who did not have a top security clearance. Under pressure, McGreevey transferred Cipel from the security post, but Cipel retained his salary and the title “special counsel.”

As newspapers continued to report on Cipel’s role and lack of qualifications, Cipel resigned in August 2002.

David Rebovich, managing director of the Rider Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, said many members of the New Jersey media believed that McGreevey was gay. They did not report it, he said, because his sexual orientation had no direct bearing on his performance as governor.

When Cipel was hired, some reporters wondered whether he and the governor were sexually involved, Rebovich said. But the story died when Cipel resigned.

“There was a lot to occupy the press corps other than [McGreevey’s] love life,” he said.

Immediately after McGreevey announced his resignation Thursday, there was considerable sympathy -- and some admiration -- from voters and even a few Republicans for the candor and poignancy of his speech.

“It took so much courage for him to come forward in front of his family and colleagues in so much detail,” said Cydney A. Walton, a public relations specialist.


But David McShane, a businessman and Republican who said he, like McGreevey, came out as gay at age 47, called the governor’s admissions insincere. “He only came out because he was forced to,” he said. “He wasn’t totally honest.”

By Friday, the same Republican leaders who had praised McGreevey for coming forward were demanding that he resign immediately instead of on Nov. 15. By waiting until November to step down, McGreevey avoided triggering a special election for governor that would have been held at the same time as the presidential vote. He also ensured that a Democrat, state Senate president Richard J. Codey, would remain governor until the end of McGreevey’s term in 2005.

“He is the master of deception,” Bill Palatucci, the state Republican finance chairman, told reporters gathered at the county courthouse in anticipation of a lawsuit filing by Cipel. “He deceived himself, his family and all the voters of New Jersey.”

At that moment, according to a spokeswoman at the governor’s office, McGreevey was spending time “privately, with his family.”

A day after making the most soul-searching decisions of his personal and professional life, the now lame-duck governor was at peace with himself, according to several of the consultants who had helped to guide him.

“He believed what he was saying, and it was the truth,” one advisor said. “I think the truth set him free, absolutely.”



Times staff writers John Goldman and Elizabeth Shogren contributed to this report.